Giovanni Vargas, Making music his business
By AnaMaria Bech
Click aqui para español->Giovanni Vargas: La música, su empresa
New Orleans is well-known for its great musicians who have been the fruit of a culture that revolves around music. We recognize the artists’ names but fail to recognize all the work and production jobs that all these musicians create. We hear about the producers, composers, and obviously the artists, yet many behind-the-scenes individuals remain anonymous to music industry outsiders.
Giovanni Vargas is well known within the industry, but most people do not know about his accomplishments as a tour manager. This local “Guatemaltico” – a self-coined title reflecting his origin as the son of a Guatemalan mother and Costa Rican father – has worked as the road manager for renowned artists like Barbra Streissand and Fleetwood Mac, and the tour manager for national and international stars such as Lil’ Wayne, Solange, Usher, Nicki Minaj, and Outkast, among many others. Vargas is currently managing American rapper Playboi Carti’s tour, and just made the difficult decision of withdrawing from Shakira’s El Dorado World Tour.
Vargas’s mentor and legendary production manager of many famous music stars Marty Hom offered him a top production position on the tour. After giving this offer a lot of consideration, knowing that the offer was not for the tour manager position, Vargas decided it was better to withdraw from a position that wasn’t in line with his expertise and his goals.
But how does a young Latino from New Orleans even get that type of offer from a legendary music production manager? Certainly not by chance. It happens with many hours of work and sacrifice paired with a very strong work-ethic and professionalism. And it also takes drive. Vargas got into music since his teenage years at Bonnabel High School. “I did some wrapping back in the day,” he admits timidly, adding “that turned into wanting to make money to buy more equipment”.
He focused on making a career out of his passion and found jobs in promotions and street marketing. He met Sergio Cabrera of MamboMundo.com, who ran a promotions gig for the Latin events in the city. He started promoting the Jorge Moreno, the Havana Nights' soundtrack musician, who was performing at TwiRoPa Mills, the best Latino-run music venue in New Orleans at the time.
Their Latin night, ‘Tumbao’, was always packed, and it wasn’t only Latinos who enjoyed the venue's events. After appreciating the quality of Vargas’s work, co-owner Angel Collazos and his assistant Eduardo Courtade, hired Vargas to handle promotions for the club. This position evolved into handling stage production as there were live performances on a regular basis. Collazos brought Latin acts as well as known bands from other genres, which gave Vargas the opportunity to get into live music production and work with acts such as the Marley Brothers, for example.
Vargas kept exploring the production world, moving on to work in music festivals. He attended Music Business Symposiums held at Loyola University since he was 16 years old, and finally he was able to be part of the action and he was finding a place within the industry.
Reginald Toussaint, son of legendary New Orleans musician Allen Toussaint gave him the opportunity to work at Jazz Fest. Vargas admired Mr. Toussaint for being a New Orleans musician and composer who influenced the national music industry, for becoming relevant in R&B, and for gaining national and international recognition in the industry without having to leave New Orleans or without losing his kind and courteous demeanor. For Vargas, Toussaint and Trombone Shorty are the perfect examples of what he aspires to be: A New Orleans local music industry professionals who make an impact on the industry and who is recognized not only for his quality work, but also for his affinity with people, proving to be pleasant to work with.
Working at the Jazz & Heritage Festival and at Voodoo Fest gave Vargas visibility amongst tour managers of several performers. This also gave him the opportunity to make connections that would shape his career path. One of these connections was made over the phone. After reading a newspaper article his father had pointed out to him about Melissa Giles, Vargas knew he had to reach out to her.
Giles ran a successful women-only street promotion team in Miami when she was only 18 years old. “Reading about a Latina doing things in Miami with a street team was inspirational for me, so I reached out to her and she connected me with people.” Soon after his graduation from Tulane University with degrees in Sociology and Business Administration, Vargas’s work came to a halt because of Hurricane Katrina.
His friend, Pablo Quevedo, a connection acquired through Giles, offered him a job with the tours of Latin stars Don Omar and LDA. He rode the reggaeton wave and worked with many recognized artists of the genre. Once this wave started to phase down, Vargas came back to festival work. In 2009, Vargas booked Questlove for a DJ concert in New Orleans and met Tina Farris, the tour manager for The Roots.
Having become friends, Farris recommended Vargas to Lil Wayne, the world-renowned rap artist, who then hired Vargas as his tour manager. As a tour manager, Vargas is responsible for all the logistics of a tour. He makes all the necessary travel arrangements, books flights and tour buses, deals with immigration documentation, and advances the arrangements with the promoters of the venues where the shows take place. He ensures readiness, so that when his artists arrive to the city and venue of the performance, all needs are taken care of, and everything goes as smoothly as planned.
Vargas takes prides in his performance, considering every show to be a highlight because “there is something you get when you walk an artist on stage and there are 20,000 people screaming. They don’t know anything about me, they don’t know I exist, but I know I’m responsible for making it happen, and it is a great satisfaction.”
‘Gio’, as most people know him, is making his mark and getting the recognition he deserves as a successful tour manager from New Orleans. To Vargas, it is very important to represent New Orleans as well as possible, so that those in the industry may recognize that business talent also exists in the city. Vargas wants to change the perception of New Orleans which he learned during the Loyola symposiums he attended as a teenager, that there is great music in NOLA, but no great music business resources to service the talented musicians.
“My goal is always to be a catalyst in some way shape, or form, bringing the music business into New Orleans a bit more,” explains Vargas, who sets the bar high for professionalism when his company, Monopoli Projects, is hired to handle any event.
Vargas hopes to spend more time in New Orleans to push for a music business culture change. He is working with a group of colleagues, including his friend PJ Morton, by meeting with the mayor to advocate for music business in the city. This group of music industry professionals believe New Orleans should have a NARAS Chapter to help foster music business, so Vargas is supporting Morton in that mission.
Vargas believes the music business community and the Latino community of New Orleans are similar because they are underrepresented and do not have a voice at the decision-making table. He understands his voice is needed and is committed to working to improve the conditions of both communities.
When asked about which artists’ tours he would like to manage he took his time and answered, “I am a huge fan of D’Angelo. I am a huge fan of Ruben Blades…those are probably two I’d like to do.” In that answer one can understand how his bicultural experiences have enriched his life. His mind is open to enjoying culture, traveling, relating and working with completely different personalities, working hard and representing who he is: A New Orleans-Latino-Music Industry Professional.
He wishes more people to expand their minds by experiencing other cultures, and would like to see a mesh between Americans and Latinos in New Orleans. “If you are American don’t be shy to walk into a Latin joint to eat. If you are Latino do not go only to the concert of ‘El Torito’. Go and try new things, experience other cultures because you may not like them…you may LOVE them.”